Vermiculture: Another fancy word for composting with worms

Photo courtesy of Mnemonix at

Vermiculture is a word that can be confusing. What does it mean? The prefix, “vermi”, sounds unpleasant, like ‘vermin’, but Vermis is the Latin word for worm. That leads to the next question – how does one “culture” worms? Well, so far no one has had any luck teaching worms to enjoy the opera or visit art galleries. Instead, we’ve learned how to culture worms in the same way that milk curds are cultured to produce cheese. Just like cheese bacteria, it’s easy to raise worms and get them to do useful work at the same time that they grow up and reproduce.

Worms can reproduce very quickly, as many species are hermaphrodites. They can breed even if there are no other worms to mate with. Worms lay cocoons that contain anywhere from 2 to 50 baby worms. This rapid reproduction keeps the species alive in the wild, even though many different birds, snakes, and other predators try to eat them. Inside a worm bin, there are no predators so the worm population will grow quickly.

Photo courtesy of Sevenoh at

Worm composting can be done indoors or outdoors. Many different containers are suitable for vermiculture. You can buy a custom built worm bin, or build your own using a wooden or plastic container, an old wash tub, barrels, sandboxes, dresser drawers, or even suitcases. The trick is to keep the worms happy. Maintain good air flow, keep the soil damp but not too wet, and give the worms plenty of food. Then, sit back and let them eat and reproduce around the clock. If you feel like it, go to the opera or check out a museum – the worms will still be working when you get back.

Photo courtesy of wyo92 at

Worm Composting: How to vermicompost with a worm bin

Photo courtesy of hale_popoki at

Worms are nature’s own garbage disposal. They work quickly and turn shreds of garbage into smaller and smaller pieces. Soil passes through a worm about 5 times before reaching a well-balanced and stable form. Vermicomposting quickly turns fruit and vegetable scraps into nutrient-rich compost.

Worms make excellent pets, but they need a comfortable home to live in. Just like dogs need a doghouse to protect them from the rain, worms need a snug home that has just the right conditions. Worms need to be protected from sunlight, excess moisture, and predators. Worm bins offer all of this and more. The lid keeps rain and birds away, and a well constructed worm bin allows liquid to drain from the main compartment into a holding cell. This plant friendly liquid is called compost tea, and many worm bins have a spigot you can use to drain the compost tea for watering houseplants.

After you choose a worm bin with the right size and features, the first step is to put a layer of shredded paper, cardboard pieces, or coir in the main compartment. This “brown compost” is rich in carbon, and the worms will eat it slowly to supplement “green compost” food scraps (which are rich in nitrogen). It will also keep baby worms from falling through the gaps. Once this lining is in place, you should put in several shovelfuls of healthy soil. The amount of soil will depend on the size of the worm compost bin, but the ideal amount will produce a pile 3-6 inches deep. When you add scraps to the compost bin, it’s important to bury the worm food underneath this soil but above the lining.

There are foods that worms like and foods that are no good for them. The best foods are kitchen scraps, such as fruit scraps and vegetable peels. Tea bags, coffee grounds, and filters also work well. It’s best not to use meats, oils or dairy products, because those scraps can attract flies and other pests. Foods that have been cooked with oil or butter should also be avoided.

After the ingredients are ready, it’s time to get some worms! There are many different varieties of worm, but red wrigglers are the most popular. They’re also widely available at bait shops and pet stores (check the live food section). Red Wigglers are also called brown nosed worms, and their scientific name is Eisenia foetida. Unlike other worms, they like to stay close to the surface and will be happy in a shallow vermicompost bin.

After that, there’s not much to do. Add worm food regularly, and remember to drain the compost tea before the holding cell gets full. There is usually plenty of water in kitchen scraps to supply the worm’s needs, but if you live in a very dry or warm area, it may be necessary to occasionally add a little bit of water. When the worm composter gets full, or when the worms eat all of the lining material, then it’s time to empty out the vermicomposter and start again.

Photo courtesy of readysubjects at

Composting Toilets: Turning people poop into safe, usable compost

Photo courtesy of London Permaculture at

Everybody poops. But few people use their poop to help around the garden. Most of our waste is carried away by sewage pipes and ends up far, far away. The thing is, waste contains tons of nutrients that plants love. It doesn’t make much sense to flush away fertilizer, and then spend money buying bags from the garden supply store. Toilets usually use more water than any other appliance in the home, and transporting sewage consumes a lot of energy. Most of that electricity comes from polluting sources like coal and natural gas. So, flushing the toilet wastes water resources and adds to our carbon footprint.

There is a better solution. Composting toilets are available that convert waste into fertilizer. Toilet Composters are safe, sanitary, and easy to operate. Composting toilets are also known as biological toilets, waterless toilets, and dry toilets. These toilets come in many different designs, but they all do basically the same thing: they use naturally occurring bacteria to turn excrement into soil. Human waste is very high in nitrogen, so a green toilet usually requires additional carbon to ensure proper composting. Toilet paper provides some carbon, but sawdust and leaves may also needed for balanced compost (and they can help control odors too).

Composting toilets work very much like other composters. They don’t fill up as quickly as you might think, because bacteria actively break down the contents into heat, gas, and compact soil. Given time, the contents of composter toilets will shrink to a fraction of their size. In general, human waste will reduce to 2-10% of its volume when converted into compost. This means that composting toilets are well suited for gradual use over an extended period (such as in a hunting cabin, RV, or single person home), but they may not be the best plumbing option for a family reunion or large BBQ.

Photo courtesy of sheagunther at